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No god but God : The Origins, Evolution, and…
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No god but God : The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam (2005)

by Reza Aslan

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Showing 1-5 of 20 (next | show all)
There was a lot to like in this book, subtitled "The Origins, Evolutions, and Future of Islam". It served me well as a good introduction to the Muslim faith, about which I knew lamentably little. I have a new appreciation for the diversity of belief that Islam encompasses, and I finally (mostly) understand the differences between the Shi'a, Sunni, and Sufi branches of Islam.

The biggest and most important takeaway, of course, is reinforcement of the knowledge that a very small percentage of the world's Muslims hold the kind of fundamentalist viewpoint that has led to terrorist attacks on the West. Aslan's explanation of how the words of the Quran have been interpreted in ways that seem completely contrary to the actions and words of its prophet, Mohammed, is akin to describing a centuries-long game of telephone played to advance political viewpoints. Things get lost in translation and interpretation, accidentally and deliberately, but once lost they are difficult to retrieve.

It's also less than heartening to read that much of the growth in fundamentalist Islam came about as a direct result of Western colonial activity in the Middle East, India, and Africa. It's difficult to read about brutal suppression and the deliberate pitting of one faith's true believers against another's in order to ensure native populations would be too fractured to mount a successful revolution, especially with the hindsight of what those actions wrought over the long term and into our current political landscape. In that sense, this book only reaffirmed my belief that we have no place, militarily, in the Middle East today. What is happening in Iraq is tragic, to be sure, and partly our fault, but nothing we do now is likely to make it better. We would have been far better off never to have started the war in the first place. Perhaps it's no use crying over those past decisions but we need to keep reminding people that time has proven them to be total failures lest we stumble into the same minefield all over again, as has happened time and again.

Given all of that, Aslan seems unduly optimistic that the current brand of fundamentalist Islam that has led to so many terrorist attacks will wane as the overwhelmingly young Muslim population moves away from that message and toward a version of populist democracy. He cites the people's uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya to support his view, although a reader can't help but notice that the book was written before the "Arab Spring" failed to truly catch hold and in some places was brutally suppressed or slid backwards into tyranny once again.

Aslan also is optimistic that Islam and democracy can (and will) co-exist, though he rightly points out that we in the West must stop thinking our brand of democracy is the only right way to do it. Certainly we have an innate distrust of government that overtly espouses a religious viewpoint, but Aslan argues that just as Muhammed ruled the city of Medina without persecuting the Jewish and Christian minorities who lived and traded there, the same sort of faith-based governance could work today.

As you might expect from a book that encompasses more than 900 years of history in just 300 pages, the best that can be said about No god but God is that it is a decent introduction to Islam for those like me who knew little. Further reading would be necessary to truly understand many of the complex subjects that Aslan only lightly touches on, but he provides a strong starting point for the curious. ( )
3 vote rosalita | Jul 21, 2014 |
I want to write two reviews for this book. In one I say well done, and thank you Reza Aslan, for your clear prose, your sympathetic defense of Islam, the remarkable way you cram so much--religious history, political history, theology, religious practice--into so few pages.
In the other I say for the sake of all that's holy Reza, will you stop banging on about how Islam is a liberal-democrat's wet dream religion? Because that doesn't sit very well with your endless claims that the Ulama comprises only the spawn of anti-liberal-democratic-demons. And while we're at it, I'm pretty sure clerics have reasons other than sexism for the decisions they make. Tied in to this, will you stop making obviously bad arguments (e.g., "People say that Islam is a 'religion of the sword.' But Buddhists and Christians fight all the time!" Sure they do. But Jesus and Buddha never commanded armies.)? Will you get off Sufism's jockstrap? I know that's the easiest to paint as the aforementioned L-DWD religion (drink! screw! rock'n'roll! the Gaia thesis! I mean, there must be more to it than that), but it's just possible that that's a sign of weakness rather than strength.

Instead, I will just say: this is a great, short introduction to the history of Islam. It touches on a few theological/jurisprudential points without knuckling down on them. His idea that Islamic terrorism is caused by a surging conservatism clashing with an equally surging liberalization is a plausible one. But the book's polemic (justified by hysterical Islamophobia, I grant you) distorts its history and argument far too much: if Islam offered only support for liberal-capitalistic governments in the middle east, it wouldn't be as popular as it is. ( )
  stillatim | Dec 29, 2013 |
A pretty good concise account of the revelation to Mohammed and the origins of Islam. Well worth a read. ( )
  nmele | Dec 4, 2013 |
A must read for those striving to understand the political evolution of the religious / political state of Islam. Must read more than once. ( )
  SharonBey | Nov 26, 2013 |
This brief history of Islam should be required reading for foreign policy-makers, editorial writers and military commanders. Sure, Aslan has a point of view, but in less than 300 pages he summarizes the history of Islam and interprets contemporary turmoil in the Muslim world in a way that makes sense. Don't read Bernard Lewis, read Reza Aslan! ( )
  nmele | Apr 6, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 20 (next | show all)
THESE are rough times for Islam. It is not simply that frictions have intensified lately between Muslims and followers of other faiths. There is trouble, and perhaps even greater trouble, brewing inside the Abode of Peace itself, the notional Islamic ummah or nation that comprises a fifth of humanity.

News reports reveal glimpses of such trouble -- for instance, in the form of flaring strife between Sunni and Shiite Muslims in places like Iraq and Pakistan. Yet the greater tensions, while similarly rooted in the distant past, are less visible to the wider world. The rapid expansion of literacy among Muslims in the past half-century, and of access to new means of communication in the last decade, have created a tremendous momentum for change. Furious debates rage on the Internet, for example, about issues like the true meaning of jihad, or how to interpret and apply Islamic law, or how Muslim minorities should engage with the societies they live in.
added by cpandmg | editNew York Times, Max Rodenbeck (May 29, 2005)
 
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Epigraph
In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful
Dedication
Thank you. Mom and Dad, for never doubting me; Catherine Bell, for getting me started; Frank Conroy, for finding me; Daniel Menaker, for trusting me; Amanda Fortini, for fixing me; my teachers, for challenging me; and Ian Werrett, for absolutely everything else.
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In the arid, desolate basin of Mecca, surrounded on all sides by the bare mountains of the Arabian desert, stands a small, nondescript sanctuary that the ancient Arabs refer to as the Ka'ba: the Cube.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0812971892, Paperback)

Though it is the fastest-growing religion in the world, Islam remains shrouded in ignorance and fear for much of the West. In No god but God, Reza Aslan, an internationally acclaimed scholar of religions, explains this faith in all its beauty and complexity. Beginning with a vivid account of the social and religious milieu in which the Prophet Muhammad forged his message, Aslan paints a portrait of the first Muslim community as a radical experiment in religious pluralism and social egalitarianism. He demonstrates how, after the Prophet’s death, his successors attempted to interpret his message for future generations–an overwhelming task that fractured the Muslim community into competing sects. Finally, Aslan examines how, in the shadow of European colonialism, Muslims developed conflicting strategies to reconcile traditional Islamic values with the realities of the modern world, thus launching what Aslan terms the Islamic Reformation. Timely and persuasive, No god but God is an elegantly written account of a magnificent yet misunderstood faith.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:39:38 -0400)

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An authoritative study of the Islamic faith in relation to the other world religions sheds new light on its origins and history, from the social reformation role of Muhammad to the impact of fundamentalism and terrorism on Islam.

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